Ecclesiastes 2 He-Done-Ism

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Questions: Is it better to play hard or work hard? Is pleasure the ultimate good? Is there anything worth striving for? What is left after everything has been done? Does the one who dies with the most toys win? Will death make fools of us all?

“Read More” to pursue answers from Ecclesiastes.

Lord, make me a Fountain of your Love.
Draw me into your holy Presence, that I might know you as my Father
And manifest the image of Christ in this world, and the world to come. Amen.

Ecclesiastes 2:1-26

I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure

Having burned out on duty, the author decides to give self-indulgence a spin. Alas, with no better results:

and, behold, this also [is] vanity. I said of laughter, [It is] mad: and of mirth, What doeth it?

Note that he’s not blindly carousing, but deliberately trying to maximize his own pleasure:

I sought in mine heart to give myself unto wine, yet acquainting mine heart with wisdom; and to lay hold on folly, till I might see what [was] that good for the sons of men, which they should do under the heaven all the days of their life.

Moreover, he’s not merely consuming, but also creating:

made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards: I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all [kind of] fruits: I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees:

And of course collecting:

I got [me] servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house; also I had great possessions of great and small cattle above all that were in Jerusalem before me: I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, [as] musical instruments, and that of all sorts.

In short, he had (and did) it all:

So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me. And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour.

Hey, he’s living the American dream three thousand years early! So after giving himself every joy he can imagine, what is he left with?

Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all [was] vanity and vexation of spirit, and [there was] no profit under the sun.

Say what? What went wrong? He avoided all the usual mistakes of the materialist: destructive self-indulgence, mindless consumption, unrewarding labor. He enjoyed what he did, what he got, and what he had — no buyer’s remorse here.

Yet at the end of the day, he still found himself hollow. Why? Was wisdom itself his curse?

And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly: for what [can] the man [do] that cometh after the king? [even] that which hath been already done.Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness. The wise man’s eyes [are] in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness

Well, no — it is still better to get what you want than get what you don’t want. But, in the end, does it really matter?

and I myself perceived also that one event happeneth to them all. Then said I in my heart, As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me; and why was I then more wise? Then I said in my heart, that this also [is] vanity. For [there is] no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever; seeing that which now [is] in the days to come shall all be forgotten. And how dieth the wise [man]? as the fool.

I interpret this as saying that wisdom is useful in figuring out the appropriate “means” to get what we want, but it doesn’t change the fact that the “ends” are themselves illusory: once we finally obtain our desire, it turns to ashes. Since even our wisdom can become the servant of folly:

Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me. And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise [man] or a fool? yet shall he have rule over all my labour wherein I have laboured, and wherein I have shewed myself wise under the sun. This [is] also vanity.

And that thought is enough to bum anyone out:

Therefore I went about to cause my heart to despair of all the labour which I took under the sun.For there is a man whose labour [is] in wisdom, and in knowledge, and in equity; yet to a man that hath not laboured therein shall he leave it [for] his portion. This also [is] vanity and a great evil. For what hath man of all his labour, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he hath laboured under the sun? For all his days [are] sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night. This is also vanity.

It is pleasant to store up those things you love for your own enjoyment. But, the very fact that you love them makes you vulnerable to the fear that they’ll be abused and misused after you’re gone. So have we really gained anything?

Perhaps the only answer is to live in the present:

[There is] nothing better for a man, [than] that he should eat and drink, and [that] he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it [was] from the hand of God. For who can eat, or who else can hasten [hereunto], more than I?

Is this advice based on faithful submission or hopeless resignation? To be honest, I don’t know. I can read it either way — which might even be deliberate! Not that it seems to matter much to the author:

For [God] giveth to a man that [is] good in his sight wisdom, and knowledge, and joy: but to the sinner he giveth travail, to gather and to heap up, that he may give to [him that is] good before God. This also [is] vanity and vexation of spirit.

Wait, this seems the opposite of his earlier fear, of the wise turning over their labor to fools? Geez, make up your mind.

Or, then again, maybe that too is the point. The wise risk leaving their hard-earned gain to fools. Fools leave their ill-gotten gains to the wise. Perhaps, as Ruby’s friend might say, it is all just bulldada.

Or is it?

Prayer

God, I end this chapter with more questions than answers. All I can ask is that you clear my mind of illusion and false hopes, no matter how much importance I may place on them. Empty me of my vanity and folly — and fear — that I may be filled with your truth. I ask this in Jesus name, Amen.

About the Title:

Today’s title is a play on the word hedonism and Solomon’s pride in all he’s done.

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